Since the concept failure of lockdown at Sandy Hook as a single option response, there has been a flood of products and ideas into the market promising to improve school lockdowns. Automatic remote securing of doors, gun safe boxes, pepper spray boxes, overhead pepper spray in hallway ceilings, myriad secondary door locking devices, and bullet proof film and glass have become the new “normal” in recommendations from vendors.
I have heard sales pitches and been asked for endorsements “…to keep kids safe.” What I’m seeing is myriad products that violate the fire code, violate building codes, restrict law enforcement response, don’t take into account safe evacuation, require fine motor skills to operate and remove options from staff and students rather than enhancing their response.
The concept failure of school lockdowns stems from the fact the concept was initially used for drive by shootings and then was expanded to include active threats and terrorism…with no change in tactics. Though lockdown remains a secondary option in programs like ALICE Training and the Run, Hide, Fight recommendations from the Department of Education, it has been supplanted by evacuation as a primary response. Unfortunately, many facilities are finding that even as a secondary response, lockdown is leaving their facilities extremely vulnerable due to door and building design.
Most Doors Aren’t Bullet-Resistant
In the Buildings and Infrastructure Protection Series Primer to Design Safe Schools Projects in Case of Terrorist Attacks and School Shootings (FEMA-428/BIPS-07/January 2012 Edition 2), this issue is highlighted on page 3-43: “Doors used in educational facilities are commonly made of wood or aluminum with significant portions of glass. These materials can easily be penetrated and provide only partial defense against an armed intruder. Bullet-resistant doors are very expensive and should be used only where no other protections exist.”
It is easily inferred from this statement that most of the locations in educational facilities are easily breached by determined individuals bent on causing harm.
Campuses Must Prepare for Terrorism
Gone are the days when locking a door, turning off the lights, pulling the drapes, sticking paper in the window and being quiet were the recommendations. We now need to prepare on the level that a Beslan, Peshawar or Utoya Island will happen here…to us…today. Incidents such as Columbine, Red Lake, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook, while all horrific, are small in scope when compared to these overseas incidents. Our training and our buildings should be complimenting each other in order to mitigate casualties when a terrorist event occurs. The reality is that most of them are not.
Most building and fire codes were developed to deal with a threat that was killing tens of thousands every year. That figure has been reduced to roughly 3,000 fire deaths per year in the United States for the last decade, with no deaths to children in a school fire since 1958. Improvement in training for civilians, along with infrastructure improvements and strict code enforcement has made our people much safer.